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  (Curtis Lantinga)


(Curtis Lantinga)

Margaret Wente

Politically unpopular carbon tax won’t work Add to ...

This is part of Fort McMoney, an interactive documentary game that lets you decide the future of the Alberta oil sands, and shape the city at its centre. Joining the fray – and sharing their views along the way – are Globe columnist Margaret Wente and business reporter Eric Reguly. Read the introductory columns written by Ms. Wente and Mr. Reguly.

This week they debate the question: Are carbon taxes a good idea? Read Mr. Reguly’s view.

A carbon tax strikes many people as an efficient, fair and simple way to reduce emissions. British Columbia has one, and it’s extremely popular.

But a carbon tax is no magic bullet. Price it too high, and industries will close down and move elsewhere. Price it too low, and behaviour won’t change. Carbon taxes are also regressive, because they hit lower-income people harder.

Lots of people believe that using a carbon tax to raise the price of fossil fuels would encourage people to switch to renewables. But that won’t happen, because renewable energy isn’t available on a mass scale. You can’t run your car on solar or wind, and battery-powered cars are a long way from being commercially viable. We’ll need fundamental technological breakthroughs before fossil fuels can be replaced with clean energy in a big way.

There’s also the question of politics. B.C. is exceptional – it’s one of the few places in the world where people actually welcomed a carbon tax. Most other people aren’t so evolved. Politicians can’t go around imposing too many policies people don’t like, because they’ll be booted out of office. And so no matter what the merits of a carbon tax, if you can’t persuade most people it’s good for them you’ll get nowhere.

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